Succession may very well be the best show on television right now.
What brings us back week in and week out isn’t necessarily the drama that unfolds in the lives of these malevolent folk. It’s the comedy – albeit dark and at times crude – that is attached to the show’s loveable/hateable characters the ultimately leaves us wanting more.
Yet, Jeremy Strong, who plays Succession’s leading lost cause in Kendall Roy, doesn’t see it that way.
In a recent profile in The New Yorker that went viral thanks to the intimate focus on the life of the Emmy award-winning actor, Strong described the difficult – and at times, excruciating – life he leads to prepare for his role as the show’s lead, and that his understanding of the show is very different to that of viewers’…and even his castmates.
In an excerpt from The New Yorker profile, Kieran Culkin – who plays dim-witted Roman Roy, brother of Kendall – tells journalist Michael Schulman “after the first season, he [Strong] said something to me like, ‘I’m worried that people might think that the show is a comedy.’ And I said, ‘I think the show is a comedy.’ He thought I was kidding.”
Schulman then goes on to mention “when I told Strong that I, too, thought of the show as a dark comedy, he looked at me with incomprehension and asked, ‘In the sense that, like, Chekhov is comedy?’ No, I said, in the sense that it’s funny.”
The fact is, Succession is a comedy. And it’s a side-splitting affair in it’s squeamish, screaming, awkwardness. Whether it’s Roman Roy accidentally sending a ‘dick pic’ to his father at a board meeting, or the quick-witted Tom Wambsgans falling for his wife’s continual manipulating ways like a lost puppy, the show explores the lives of bad people with too much money who can’t find happiness or purpose despite having it all.
Really, at the core of the show, the show is a satire of the hyper-privileged world and how oblivious they can be in their ivory towers. They’re the butt of the joke without even knowing it.
The fact that Strong doesn’t see Succession in that way not only comes across as a ‘typical Kendall moment’, but it’s why his recent profile was an enthralling read on all accounts; it was as if Kendall himself was being interviewed.
“I began to wonder if I’d been interviewing an actor playing Kendall Roy or a character impersonating Jeremy Strong,” Schulman mentioned in the profile.
It is evident that Strong, who is now 42, plays the role of Kendall Roy like his life depends on it. The result? A stomach-churning, laughter-inducing experience that has afforded him an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.
“To me, the stakes are life and death. I take him as seriously as I take my own life,” Strong said on playing Kendall in The New Yorker.
Adam McKay, Succession’s executive producer, adds “but that’s exactly why we cast Jeremy in that role… because he’s not playing it like a comedy. He’s playing it like he’s Hamlet.”
However, in 2020, Strong mentioned on an HBO podcast dedicated to Succession that his commitment to playing Kendall Roy weighs heavily on him as an actor.
“He [Kendall] is a collapsed human being. Sometimes I just think we’re going through the titles of Jared Diamond’s books; you know, collapse and upheaval. As much as those things land heavily on me, it’s a heavy, heavyweight to carry, but that’s what I want… I want the heavyweight stuff.”
“My own fear, there is a lot of that. And the pressure of carrying an HBO show. The pressure of being given the chance finally after a lifetime of working towards something like this… it’s like a US Open, the French Open, the Australian Open and Wimbledon all in one. The stakes couldn’t be higher. There are times when I will walk away from a scene and I’ll go and sit in a broom closest. I have to let it out a little bit.”
It’s evident that there’s a price to pay for Strong’s commitment to the art form. Strong is also referenced to be somewhat difficult to work with on set, as he likes to just dive straight into scenes with little to no preparation; the act of a method artist at work.
But at what price does this commitment – to what is simply a television show at the end of the day – come at? Brian Cox, Strong’s on-screen father and the show’s patriarch media tycoon who is essentially at the crux of the characters’ doom and gloom, weighed in on the topic.
Speaking on the Late Night with Seth Meyers, Cox said he was concerned Strong’s acting methods could lead to eventual burnout.
“The thing about Jeremy’s approach is that it works in terms of what comes out the other end. My problem is that he does get obsessed with the work,” Cox said.
“I worry about what it does to him, because if you can’t separate yourself – because you’re dealing with all of this material every day – you can’t live in it. Eventually, you get worn out.”
Following the profile that was published in The New Yorker, actress Jessica Chastain, who starred opposite Strong in Zero Dark Thirty and Molly’s Game, claimed the profile was incredibly one-sided when it came to the claims that he was difficult to work with.
“I’ve known Jeremy Strong for 20 years and worked with him on two films. He’s a lovely person. Very inspiring and passionate about his work,” she wrote via Twitter.
“The profile that came out on him was incredibly one-sided. Don’t believe everything you read folks. Snark sells but maybe it’s time we move beyond it.”
Wait, what? It was an incredibly nuanced portrait of him. I'm sure you won't see the responses to your tweet — and I'm jealous that you probably never do! — but calling it "snark" seems like a real misread.
— Kate Aurthur (@KateAurthur) December 8, 2021
The Succession season three finale airs today.